My fellow parents,
When I say, “We must teach our sons not to rape,” this is what I mean:
Start small. Start when they are too small to know any better.
Start by teaching them to respect their bodies. We tell them to eat the right foods, to wash their hands, and to change their underwear every day even though they really want to wear those Superman ones with the bright red elastic band again.
Tell them that grabbing toys away from other kids is disrespectful, and they can’t just take what they want when they want it. They must wait. They must ask permission. They must be kind. They must share.
Tell them that the words they use to describe girls are powerful ones. So when he says, “I don’t want to throw like a girl” respond with, “Why? Are you afraid you will throw too far?” Show them through your own everyday speech that you won’t accept sexist slurs in your family. You won’t accept belittling words about females and you expect your son to follow in your example.
Explain to them over and over again that their body is theirs and they have a right to say who can touch it and when. Drill this concept into them. The person who lives in the body gets to say who touches the body. That means that they must ask to touch other people. Tell them what kind of touching is okay in your family.
Tell them, show them, and demonstrate every day to them that your family is a safe space and you are a safe space they can tell truths to. If they are ever touched in a bad way, or are scared of someone, or just plain have an icky feeling about someone, then listen to them. Do not brush them off with “but Uncle Billy is so funny and he loves you!”
Make the conversation get bigger as they get bigger. The concept of keeping your hands to yourself does not change as you become an adult, but maybe the language does a little. Say, “If she says no, then step back.” Say, “If she wants just a kiss, then leave it at that.” Say, “If she said to stop calling her or texting her, then show her the respect that you would want and leave her be.” Say, “Even if she was rude to you, harsh to you, ghosted you, whatever, you do not have the right to smack talk her to your friends.”
Make the conversation get even bigger. Show them what a condom is. Tell them that just because they have one and (fingers crossed) know how to properly put one on, that still does not give them the right to demand, expect, or force sex from another person.
Talk about rape and sexual violence when they are old enough to handle that horrific truth of the world. Tell them that it is nasty, it is evil, it is savage, and it is never, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever okay.
Show them that girls and women are equals. Show them that just because you bring this up in conversation once in a while does not mean that the concept of consent is a passing topic of conversation. It is a respectful, moral, and ethical way of living.
We need to teach our sons to not rape. And this is how you start to do that.